Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 66

Those who say the Name in self-power, whether
        meditative or nonmeditative -
Having indeed taken refuge in the Vow that beings
        1ultimately attain birth -
Will spontaneously, even without being taught,
Turn about and enter the gate of suchness.

Tariki

The Vow of Accomplishing the Ultimate Salvation is the twentieth Vow.

The epic poem Buddhacarita tells the story of Shakyamuni Buddha's journey to enlightenment. The author, Asvaghosa, lived during the first century BCE, and was spiritual advisor to the Gandharan King, Kaniksha.

Shakyamuni was enlightened 'by himself', having abandoned the guidance of teachers - notably Arada Kalama ans Udraka Ramaputra. However, he did not create his own enlightenment. Shakyamuni was enlightened by the power of the dharma. This is how it happened.

After leaving Udraka Ramaputra, Shakyamuni went to Magadha and undertook ascetic practices in an effort to force enlightenment, thinking, 'no ascetic in the past, none in the present, and none in the future, ever has practiced or ever will practice more earnestly than I.' Yet, after six years of self-torment, during which it is said, he fasted so assiduously that his spine could be seen through his stomach, he realised the futility of these practices and began to eat properly and sit comfortably.

Even so, Shakyamuni Buddha still engaged in rigorous endevour. This time it was meditation that he took up: 'Blood may become exhausted, flesh may decay, bones may fall apart, but I will never leave this place until I find the way to enlightenment.' Still, he was assailed by confusing thoughts: 'dark shadows overhung his spirit.' He was beleaguered by 'all the lures of the devils.' Examining each of these mental intrusions one by one - he rejected them. This process of elimination was a hard struggle, 'making his blood run thin, his flesh fall away, and his bones to crack.'

At the age of thirty-five Shakyamuni finally reached enlightenment when the dharma dawned upon him. His confusing thoughts and his demons fell away, leaving his mind clear and his spirit free. The dharma, he realised, was the only reality.

Shinjin, in the Pure Land Way, is the assurance of enlightenment and not enlightenment itself. We awaken to shinjin in this life and realise buddhahood upon passing beyond this realm of existence. In the Buddha dharma - as we have already seen - life is a journey in which we pass from stage to stage. Shinran, in his turn, was able to discern stages of development within the Pure Land Path and, like Shakyamuni, found it to be a process of elimination.

We have already seen that although the nineteenth Vow - the way of many religious practices - portends a form of birth in the Pure Land, it nevertheless does not lead to final awakening and full realization of the Buddhist truth. So too the twentieth Vow, which provides for 'self-power' practice of the nembutsu, leads to a kind of entry into a Pure Land but not immediate final release. But in this verse, Shinran asserts that 'self-power' nembutsu leads to a spontaneous (jinen) entry into the 'gate of True Thusness'. How so? Because, even though the nembutsu of the twentieth Vow is a 'self-power' endeavour, it contains nascent faith, which arises from the Vow of Amida Buddha.

Entrusting ourselves to the Name and coming to the 'gate of True Thusness', to shinjin, seems at first to be something we have initiated ourselves; but in fact, we are really responding to the call of the Vow to entrust it in the Name. In this sense our self-power (jiriki) is in fact the work of Other Power.

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